Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Hankie warning for personal growth and domestic situations. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. It involves trying to get over things without much luck, frustration with slow progress, awkward couples therapy, boundary issues, communication issues, whole magazine racks full of issues in every color and theme, impaired bond dynamics, negotiation and compromise, mismatched stages of development, and other angst. Overall, though, the tone is hopeful. If these are sensitive subjects for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
"The Day You Start to Move Forward"
Calliope tried to get over
the whole thing with Vagary,
but she just couldn't.
It was like a rock in her shoe,
digging into her at every step.
It was like a glitch in the matrix,
stutter and skip of scenes
replaying in her head.
It was like a tether,
pulling her up short
when she wanted to go.
She kept going to therapy,
not because she wanted to,
but because she had to:
doing that was better
than doing nothing.
Vagary seemed less unhappy
and more relaxed when Calliope
picked him up for a session.
He liked the drive through Stillwater
and the Tranquility Counseling Center.
He liked the receptionist there,
now that she wasn't staring at him
(now that his face was mostly healed),
and he liked their therapist too.
"It's easier now," Vagary said
when Mr. Gallagar asked them
how things were going. "Just
coming here helps, because
we're together, so the bond
isn't as strained as it was."
Calliope would have to take
his word for it. She couldn't
feel half as much as he did.
"It's bearable," she said.
"I don't like it, but it's better than
having him barge into my house."
"Shall we talk about that?"
Mr. Gallagar said. "I recall you
mentioning some boundary issues."
"Yeah, I took a class, and I've gone
through most of the workbooks that
you gave me earlier," said Vagary.
"But it's like I have to put in each one
by hand, I can't just memorize 'boundaries'
and most people don't want to talk about
where theirs even are. So I keep fucking up."
"Calliope?" said Mr. Gallagar. "Would it
be worth your time to define boundaries
so Vagary can see them more clearly?"
She thought about that. Never come
near me again was a lost cause.
Don't touch me fared little better.
"I don't know," she said.
"Think about how people meet
and grow close," said Mr. Gallagar.
"Normally they begin with shallow things
and move deeper as they begin to feel
more comfortable with each other."
"Getting thrown into the deep end hasn't
helped me figure out boundaries," Vagary,
tilting his hands. "It's all muddled up."
"You mentioned your house,"
said Mr. Gallagar. "Since we've
made a little progress just from
the two of you meeting here,
perhaps it would help to set
another meeting place so that
Vagary wouldn't feel tempted
to visit you at home."
Calliope liked the idea of
keeping Vagary away, even if
it meant meeting him on purpose.
"Yes, that sounds good to me,"
she said. "If he'll stick to it."
He was a supervillain, after all.
"Vagary?" said Mr. Gallagar.
"Could you work with that?"
"Yeah," said Vagary. "The bond
doesn't care where we go, just that
we spend time together. I only went
to her house because I knew where
it was and she'd have to come there."
"We did all right in town," Calliope said.
"It wasn't fun, but it was ... probably
the least-worst thing we've done."
"Pick a place," Vagary told her.
Calliope felt tempted to choose
somewhere a supervillain would hate,
like the police station, but that would be
petty and also probably ineffective.
"Think about somewhere
commonly used as a meet point,"
Mr. Gallagar suggested. "Ideally,
find a place that both of you could enjoy,
even if you like it for different reasons.
Perhaps a mall or a park would work."
"Ten Bears Park isn't far from
my house," Calliope said.
Vagary smiled, but it slipped away
as quickly as it had come. "Maybe
not your favorite park, the first time,"
he said. "Remember what Mr. Gallagar
told us about moving from impersonal stuff
to more personal stuff, slowly, not all at once."
"Okay," Calliope said. She leaned back,
feeling the loveseat shift underneath
their combined weight. "What about
Rocky Fellows Park? It's way out
on the edge of town, there's plenty
to do, and it's wide open space
in case of ... any disagreements."
"I'm smooth with it," Vagary said
with a nod. "I like parks."
"That sounds very prudent,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "I suggest that
you agree on a meet point inside
the park -- maybe even an indoor one
and an outdoor one -- then spend some time
walking around. Keep your interactions
neutral to positive if you can, and
more public than personal."
"We can try," Vagary said.
"If you'd like another workbook,
I recommend this one," Mr. Gallagar said,
and put a binder on the table.
How to Hurt Each Other Less,
Calliope read as Vagary reached out
and scooped it into his lap.
The pages whispered as he
turned them carefully, one by one.
"Boundaries, yeah, I know some
of this stuff," he said, and then,
"Oh. This part is new to me."
Calliope checked the book and
saw an outline of two bodies
and a yes-maybe-no chart.
Vagary looked at her, then
quickly looked away again.
"I, um, would find this really useful,"
he said. "If you'd fill it out."
"Just imagine the whole body
as a no-go zone," Calliope said,
leaning away from Vagary.
He sighed. "We hardly ever
touch except to hit each other,"
he said. "I don't think that's
a very good situation."
"There's certainly room for
improvement," Mr. Gallagar said.
"You might try shaking hands, or
some other social activity that involves
a little bit of safe, impersonal contact."
Calliope had to admit that her instincts
would probably settle if they stopped
reading Vagary as 100% threat -- and
perhaps if she knew him better, too.
"Fine," she said. "I'll fill out those pages
if you'll agree to do them along with me."
She held out a hand to Vagary.
"Deal," he said, clasping her hand.
His grip was tentative, but the bond
shivered with momentary pleasure.
He shoved it down so hard that
it cramped as he let go of her.
They still hadn't really worked out
how to manage the psychic spillover.
"That's good progress," said Mr. Gallagar.
"Let's end on that high note, shall we?
I believe you two have a park to visit."
"Really?" Vagary said.
"Overcoming abuse doesn't just happen,
it takes positive steps every day," said Mr. Gallagar.
Let today be the day you start to move forward."
So Calliope and Vagary left the office
and went to Rocky Fellows Park.
The day was bright and clear,
the sky vivid blue above the ranks
of red-and-yellow rocks that had been
piled up to create a playground.
Children scampered up and down steps
and across bridges, crawled through
hollow logs and splashed in a waterfall.
Calliope picked up a piece of chalk
and handed it to Vagary, deliberately
letting her fingers brush his as she did.
"Here," she said. "Write something."
He wrote IF on the pavement
and passed the chalk back.
She added ONLY, then walked on
down the winding path that stretched out
toward a meadow full of flowers.
They passed the chalk back and forth,
writing awkward, wistful messages
on the sidewalk as they went.
Pavilions dotted the landscape,
and there were sport fields farther out,
along with a vast expanse of open lawn
for people to play whatever they wished.
A bluebird trail followed the line of
unmowed meadow bright with blossoms,
through which an unpaved walking path
had been cut in random curves.
"It's nice being here," Vagary said.
"Thanks for showing me the park."
"It's peaceful," Calliope said.
She could feel the unspoken
with me that accompanied
what Vagary had said, but
she didn't quibble over it.
When they came back to
the playground, they paused
to rest on two rocks beside
the artificial waterfall.
"This is a nice place,"
Vagary said as he returned
the chalk to its bucket. "We could
meet here, if you don't mind?"
"Sure," Calliope said.
At least it was easy to find.
"You can pick the indoor spot,"
Vagary offered in return.
Calliope looked around and said,
"Let's check out the visitor center."
The long low building was tucked
under a bank of cast concrete steps.
Inside it was cool and pleasant,
with a large rock fountain and pool
in the lobby. A black panther and
a white swan stood on the stones.
"Oh, that's symbolic," Vagary muttered.
Calliope couldn't help but chuckle.
"It is," she agreed. "We'll meet here,
by the fountain. I think the lounge has
couches and vending machines, though,
in case it's going to take a while."
"I like the fountain," Vagary said,
his gaze following the water as it fell.
"I like it too," Calliope said,
setting her word on his like
one stone upon another
to say, Here is the trail.
When they got back to the car,
Vagary said, "It was a good trip.
I'd like to come here again."
"It was, and we will," Calliope said.
They needed a place to meet, and
this had the advantage of offering
a relaxing environment for them both.
"Get your book. Let's do the pages."
Vagary grabbed the binder and
opened it to the boundary worksheets.
Calliope was tempted to mark off
the whole body just like she'd said,
but Vagary had a point about hitting --
which wasn't something that she
wanted to become a habit.
She left the hands open.
Vagary left a lot more of himself
open to her, but penciled in,
If you are gentle with me.
Calliope moved to the next page
and the yes-maybe-no chart.
She could've filled several pages
with things she didn't want and
had trouble thinking of anything
that she did, but she knew that
wouldn't be fair to either of them.
Instead she wrote down:
No barging into my house.
No breaking the law at home.
No grabbing me without warning.
She had to think for a while about
what she could put in the yes column,
but eventually she settled on saying,
You may sit beside me on the loveseat
during our therapy sessions.
It was something she knew he wanted
but hesitated to ask for -- he always
waited for her invitation to sit.
Calliope leafed through the workbook
just out of curiosity. She found sections on
personal needs, relationship health, fighting
and making up, individual perspectives,
virtues, personal growth, partnership,
values, communication, and goals.
That could be useful for more than just
straightening out the mess between them.
Vagary took the book back and wrote,
No hitting me when we're at home.
The yes column was longer for him:
I enjoy it when you touch me.
Let's do the chalk thing again.
I like talking together too.
Little things, simple things --
not necessarily easy, but Calliope
thought they could take a chance.
Just as Vagary finished writing,
his bookmark fluttered loose.
Calliope caught it, and read
the front as she handed it back
to him. Peace. Love. Hope.
"Time to start moving forward,"
she said as their fingertips touched.
His answering smile lasted longer this time.
* * *
"Overcoming abuse doesn't just happen, it takes positive steps everyday. Let today be the day you start to move forward."
This is the Tranquility Counseling Center. See the reception area, secure hallway, and couples counseling room. This room has posters of the Power and Control Wheel (left of door), Relationship Health Check (on door), and Equality Wheel (right of door). Behind the Tranquility Counseling Center lies a healing garden in the center of the block they share with several other buildings. It features small patches of lawn broken up by flowerbeds and a rocky stream. Walking paths provide access to several sitting areas. Healing gardens have diverse benefits, and you can create your own.
Frustration is a natural response to slow progress, especially in therapy. Understand how to cope with frustration. You'll make more progress if you know how to recognize when therapy is working or making you feel worse.
Personal boundaries often prove challenging to people who grew up without them. Boundary violations can take a lot of work to fix. Now add in the fact that boundary issues play into almost everything that can go wrong in a relationship. It helps if you understand how to handle resentment and frustration.
Calliope's neighborhood park is Ten Bears Park, which lies near the intersection of 19th Avenue and Washington Street. It covers about 25 acres. The main entrance features a kiosk with information and park signage. A bicycle rack stands at each entrance. Inside there are benches, paths, lawn space, trees, gardens, and a fenced wildlife refuge. It has public art, lighting in several places, and a Little Free Library. There are playgrounds for all ages. The park provides drinking fountains, plus several pavilions with picnic tables and barbecue grills. There are cans for garbage and recycling, along with bathrooms. The landscaping is primarily natural, with plentiful trees and bushes.
Rocky Fellows Park lies on the outskirts of Stillwater, nestled against a quiet suburb. The playground area consists of local stone built into a naturescape, and lies at the end closest to the houses. A large grassy field extends toward nearby farmland. The houses visible from this playground are small single-family ones, mostly 2-3 bedrooms. A large section of the park consists of prairie with native grasses and wildflowers. Meandering paths are mowed through this area in a different configuration each year. Another large part of the park consists of lawn for unstructured play. A bluebird trail runs all around the open areas of Rocky Fellows park in hopes of attracting primarily Eastern Bluebirds. The birdhouses adjacent to the prairie patch have the highest occupancy, but others get some attention too. Local Activity Scouts monitor the trail and remove nests which belong to invasive species such as sparrows. Nests of other native songbirds such as titmice or chickadees are permitted.
One unifying feature of the park is its use of dyed, cast or sculpted concrete to emulate natural features. This bench has been modeled after tree stumps; the wheelchair ramp and steps into the visitor center resemble stones. Inside the visitor center lobby, native stone has been fastened together into a large waterfall with a pool.
I couldn't find the kind of couples workbook I really wanted for this installment, so I have cobbled together something similar to the How to Hurt Each Other Less Workbook from Terramagne-America using resources available in local-America. The personal needs section includes Rebuilding Your Relationship House, How to Make Relationships Work, Universal Human Needs, Getting Needs Met, Everything Is Awful and I'm Not Okay, The Cycle, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Wants vs. Needs, Reality Therapy, Getting What I Want, Finding Your Purpose, and Gratitude. The first section basically looks at the fundamental reasons why relationships go wrong and some deep changes needed to fix that.
Relationship health offers Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships, Relationship Conflict Resolution, My Path to a Healthy Love Relationship, Ways to Maintain Healthy Relationships, Let's Build Our Quality World, Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries, Boundaries in Relationships, Signs of Healthy Unhealthy and Boundaries, Boundary Exploration, Setting Boundaries, My Bubble, Compassionate Boundaries, Compassionate Preference Exploration Flow Chart and key with example flow chart, Compassionate Boundaries with example body charts, Compassionate Wishlist with example list, and Who Would You Allow to Touch You and Where. Here people learn what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like, and some skills beneficial to improving theirs.
Fighting and making up begins with a Power and Control Wheel, a Respect Wheel, and Asking Questions Without Blame. I couldn't find the exact kind of worksheet needed to help adults work out their problems, but this Boundary Violations Worksheet does some good in examining what went wrong. Interpersonal Classroom Conflicts has a balanced perspective. When Things Go Wrong is an open-ended analysis of a conflict. Other pages include Victim Awareness Ripple Effect, Gottman Repair Worksheet, Aftermath of Fight Questionnaire, Fair Fighting Rules, and 4-Part Nonviolent Communication Process. This part explores the dynamics of conflict and teaches positives ways of resolving it.
The next chapter covers individual perspectives, virtues, and personal growth. It has pages on Virtues and Vices, a Virtues Scale, My Strengths and Qualities, Positive Experiences, Self-Esteem Worksheet, Wise Mind States, Wise Mind Practice, Your Gremlin, Recognizing Stress, Recognizing Your Emotions, Feelings Worksheet, Resentment Worksheet, Anger Rocket Worksheet, Anger Management Skills, 6 Steps to Solving Anger Problems, How Did the Problem Develop, Hurtful Moves / Helpful Moves, STOPP, Effective vs. Ineffective Communication, I Statements, Turn You Messages into I Messages, I Messages Asking for Change, Learning from the Past, Time Strategies, Happiness Barriers, Making Peace with Change, How Can I Improve, Decision-Making Grid, My Goals, and My Promises. In this area, people learn self-awareness and emotional intelligence as they work on making themselves more lovable and more loving, which paves the way for better relationships.
Partnership presents a Love Map, Relationship Growth Activities, What Troubles Your Partner?, My Partner's Qualities, Relationship Building Shared Qualities, Ladder of Collaboration, Teamwork, ABC of Friendship, Inside My Heart, I Love You Because, Tests of True Love, Empathy, Openness, Conscientiousness, Loyalty, Selfishness Defined (filled in or blank), Rights and Responsibilities, What Happened, Consider This, I'm Sorry, Four Part Apology, and Assertiveness and Cooperation. Having worked on themselves, people are now ready to repair the relationship itself.
In the values section are materials on Values Compass, Values Clarification, Exploring Values, Values Self-Exploration, Personal Values and Ideals, Family Mission Statement, How to Create More Meaningful Relationships, Interpersonal Effectiveness, You Can Trust Me, ABC of Love, 5 Love Languages, 100 Random Acts of Kindness, 26 Acts of Kindness Worksheet, Helping Habits, 54 Bucket List, Bestie Bucket List, 100 Things I Want to Do, and Together Let's. This chapter concerns individual and shared ideals, which form a strong basis for getting along.
The communication chapter covers the 13 Steps of Communication, Passive and Aggressive and Assertive Communication, The Reluctant Person's Confrontation Playbook, Nonviolent Communication, Agreeableness, When to Say No, How to Say No, Observations Feelings Needs Requests, Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills, Put Marital Conflict to Rest, Reflections, Communication Katas, Family Meeting, and Family Team Meeting. By examining the weaknesses and strengths of conversation, people improve their expression and success.
The goal portion lays out specific plans and priorities with SMART Goals and matching worksheet, Setting Life Goals, Priority Matrix, Priorities Worksheet, Goals and Priorities in Interpersonal Situations, Setting Goals as a Couple with practical worksheets, Self-Care Plan, and Support System. Once people have their new skills in place, they can make progress on their relationship.
Trail signs provide information about travel and hazards. Stacking stones is a simple way to identify trails.
See the Peace Love Hope bookmark.
Hope is the perception of potential improvement. It is essential for effective therapy. There are ways to cultivate hope.